May 24, 2022

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The Passionate of Travel

Catholic Charities helps immigrants with temporary stays in S.A.

Omar R. tried to gather his thoughts while his wife, Maria, sat on the bed of their San Antonio hotel room, staring out the window into the distance. Their 4-year-old daughter, Jony (sounds like “Honey”), crawled around the bed, playing with Barbies donated by area families, innocently oblivious to her parents’ worries.

For now, the hotel serves as a temporary home for the Venezuelan family after their four-month trek to the United States hit snags. The first time, they were caught by Mexican immigration agents near the Texas border and sent back to southern Mexico. The second time, they made it into the U.S., crossing from Piedras Negras, Mexico, on April 16.

But now, they can’t reach friends who Omar, 26, thought could be potential sponsors in Colorado or other states while they work out their immigration cases.

“The people we had been talking to aren’t answering anymore,” said Maria, 22. “And his other friend could take him, but not all of us.”

Thanks to the work of Catholic Charities of San Antonio and other nongovernmental agencies, the young family says they at least have a place to stay. They fled Peru amid political and economic instability and are among the hundreds of people dropped off daily at San Antonio’s bus station after being processed by Border Patrol agents at the border.

The couple arrived at the hotel this week. In conference rooms turned into makeshift offices and donated supply stations, Catholic Charities staff find out more about the immigrants and families.

Migrants pick clothing for family at a room set up by Catholic Charities San Antonio at a hotel on Monday. The nonprofit helps migrants with lodging, food, clothing and if needed traveling fares. They also provide legal help when needed.

Migrants pick clothing for family at a room set up by Catholic Charities San Antonio at a hotel on Monday. The nonprofit helps migrants with lodging, food, clothing and if needed traveling fares. They also provide legal help when needed.

Jerry Lara / San Antonio Express-News

Where are they going? Do they have a sponsor to help them on the receiving end? Or will staff have to find them a shelter in a city they are headed to?

“We try to reach families, a friend, a friend of a friend, to see if anybody can receive them for a few days,” said S., one of Catholic Charities’ humanitarian aid specialists. The agency asked that her name be kept confidential for safety reasons.

If they don’t have airline tickets, Catholic Charities buys them for the immigrants.

Some might spend just a night. Others stay longer.

The agency calls shelters in areas or cities where the immigrants might be headed, but lately, many of them have been full. In the meantime, the immigrants who do stay here are provided donated toiletries, food, clothing and other necessities.

On any given day, Catholic Charities sees 100 to 150 immigrants here, many of them families. There’s 300 on the busiest days.

Last week, 654 were staying at the hotel, said Antonio Fernandez, CEO of Catholic Charities of San Antonio, and Lizzy Perales, vice president of programs for Catholic Charities.

Tara Ford, a Catholic Charities spokeswoman, notes that her agency usually doesn’t get any notice of how many are coming or what time.

Fernandez said that “when they come at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, you do what it takes.”

Venezuelan twin 6-year-old brothers play with their devices as they wait on their mother going through intake with Catholic Charities San Antonio. The nonprofit helps migrants with lodging, food, clothing and if needed traveling fares. They also provide legal help when needed.

Venezuelan twin 6-year-old brothers play with their devices as they wait on their mother going through intake with Catholic Charities San Antonio. The nonprofit helps migrants with lodging, food, clothing and if needed traveling fares. They also provide legal help when needed.

Jerry Lara / San Antonio Express-News

Since March 2020, the U.S. has quickly blocked asylum requests from hundreds of thousands of migrants at the border under a public health law known as Title 42, to reduce potential coronavirus transmissions.

With the steep decline in virus cases in recent months, the Biden administration announced that Title 42 would end May 23. Texas has sued to keep the law in place, and a judge in Louisiana on Monday temporarily blocked its repeal.

Before the ruling, Catholic Charities was among those that foresaw large increases in migrants.

“We are expecting a huge, huge rate of individuals coming in, but we don’t know what to expect either,” said S., the humanitarian aide. “We don’t know what to expect every day. But now after Title 42, they are telling us just get ready because the numbers can double, triple, so our agency is planning accordingly to assist as many families as we can.”

Catholic Charities is opening a satellite office in Del Rio on May 27, four days after Title 42 is due to end, Fernandez said. It will provide similar services as the one in San Antonio, from assistance to migrants to helping the homeless and those undergoing food insecurity, among other aid.

But because the Del Rio office is likely to be at the forefront of the Title 42 immigrant surge, it might be pressed to help its San Antonio counterparts coordinate.

Fernandez notes that his office in San Antonio will likely take in a brunt of the surge coming through the border from Laredo to Del Rio.

A Honduran family headed to Indianapolis waits to get help from Catholic Charities. The nonprofit helps migrants with lodging, food, clothing and if needed traveling fares. They also provide legal help when needed.

A Honduran family headed to Indianapolis waits to get help from Catholic Charities. The nonprofit helps migrants with lodging, food, clothing and if needed traveling fares. They also provide legal help when needed.

Jerry Lara / San Antonio Express-News

“Worst-case scenario, it’s 18,000 people a day. That’s what (the Homeland Security Department) has said,” Fernandez said.

He said his agency works with the city of San Antonio, which provides rooms at a second hotel, and other nongovernmental agencies such as Travis Park Methodist Church, which has space for about 30 people.

“If people are leaving at 2 or 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, they go directly to the airport,” Fernandez said.

But he said he’d like to treat them with dignity and respect where possible. That might have Fernandez or his staff calling Mi Tierra restaurant, for example, and asking the Cortez family for beans and rice so the immigrants can be served a hot meal.

Omar and Maria were among dozens of families who arrived at the hotel Monday, and others in transition joined them in the Catholic Charities makeshift rooms.

The immigrants picked clothes from a rack in one area and sorted through milk crates for supplies that included toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant and baby formula. Others picked out canned goods and bottled drinks that were restocked by nuns from Catholic orders who are volunteering in San Antonio.

Coats, jackets and blankets are a big necessity because some immigrants are heading to Northern states, Ford said.

Holding her three-month-old daughter, a Honduran migrant gets help from Catholic Charities San Antonio at a hotel. The nonprofit helps migrants with lodging, food, clothing and if needed traveling fares. They also provide legal help when needed.

Holding her three-month-old daughter, a Honduran migrant gets help from Catholic Charities San Antonio at a hotel. The nonprofit helps migrants with lodging, food, clothing and if needed traveling fares. They also provide legal help when needed.

Jerry Lara / San Antonio Express-News

“Some of the families have no place, no sponsor or anything, so they’re trying to figure out what to do,” said S., the humanitarian aide. “What’s the plan?”

Omar and Maria explained that in May 2018 they left Venezuela, where Omar worked in a baking factory, and they resettled in Peru, where Omar worked in construction.

But after Pedro Castillo was elected president of Peru last year, inflation soared and they found themselves living hand to mouth, Omar said.

They sold everything they owned for money to make it to the U.S., where they expected to reunite with sponsors who aren’t family or close friends, but acquaintances.

Omar said one of the acquaintances works for a company that does construction and ductwork around the U.S. That person, Omar said, had told him the company he works for helps with housing, but the arrangement would accept only Omar, not Maria and their child.

“We’re trying to see who is going to receive us because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Maria said, cupping her face in her hands.

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